Category: Health

An open letter to depression

Dear Depression,

You SUCK!

I hate you so much and I hate the power you can have over me. I hate that you can make me feel so unlovable and question my worth. I hate that you make me lazy and want to curl up in a ball and cry. I hate that you steal hours and days of my life from me and my family. I hate that I can’t always be the mom and wife I want to be because of you. I hate that you take my positive outlook on life from me.

I HATE you and your power! I will not let you win and I will do everything in my power to fight you. I will go to my toolbox and use all of the tools I have and then if that doesn’t work I will go and get more tools. If I have to I will call in the experts and get more help, but you will not win. It may take me days, weeks or even months to get rid of you, but I will. Sometimes I think I have conquered you but then you fight back and I have to work even harder, but I always win!

You may return, let’s be honest you will, you always do, but I’ll be ready for you. I never know when you’ll return, why you return, or how I’ll beat you, but I know I will. I have the toolbox and it’s always growing. I have people supporting me and I have a team of experts and we are stronger than you.

There is no one way to fight you and win, there are many. I will fight with all I have because I know the sun will shine again. I will smile a real smile, and laugh a belly laugh again. I know this is not my fault and I did nothing to cause it.

You pick on people indiscriminately and you fight a mean fight, but I will not let you win. Depression you need to know that I will NEVER let you win.

Love,

One of many of your fighters

P.S. One of my favorite tools to use on the gloomy days that seem to be unrelenting.

Let’s Talk about Mental Health: My Story

Tears streaming down my face, my head in my hands, thoughts rushing through my head.

Anger boiled over, screaming at people about unimportant things, moving feverishly cleaning, tidying, trying to perfect things that can’t be perfected.

Tears, oh the tears.

Nothing, sitting in a catatonic state. No movement, no thoughts, just blank.

Fear, overwhelm, worry, sadness, negativity.

Pretending to be okay, when inside it was anything but okay.

Anxiety and depression.

They are real. They are personal. They do not discriminate. They can be hidden. They should be talked about.

snow and sleet street

They are all too familiar to me, and those statements above are just a few of my personal experiences.

Recognizing, naming and accepting my anxiety and depression were not easy. It was a long and sometimes lonely road. In retrospect, I can look back at my childhood (honestly a happy trauma-free childhood) and recognize these feelings manifesting even then.

How was I to know that it wasn’t normal to spend New Year’s Eve in tears as a child mourning the loss of the year gone by and the start of a new one?

Most kids didn’t worry every time their parents were a few minutes late getting home that there must have been a car accident and the police were on their way to inform us?

The pressure I used to put on myself to be the best, to get everything perfect, only led to feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed.

The first time I saw a counselor was when I was newly married. The catalyst was my winter sweaters.

Yes, you read that correctly.

My winter sweaters led me to seek counseling for the first time in my life!

I was standing in our bedroom and trying to put my winter sweaters up on the top shelf in the closet. Once I got them put away they were never perfect. I kept trying to fix them until I couldn’t take it anymore. I ripped all the sweaters down out of the closet and started yelling about how I couldn’t do it. My extreme anger and frustration led to crying.I knew this reaction wasn’t normal.

Why were these sweaters making me cry?

sweaters

I knew I didn’t want to live the way I was living anymore. I had such a short fuse, and I strove for the unattainable – perfection. Making that first call was hard. I started with my work EAP (Employee Assistance Program).

It took me days and days to get the courage to call. When I did, I was fighting back the tears trying to schedule the appointment. It was hard to admit there was something I couldn’t fix and something might be wrong. I went to counseling for a little while, got a little better – I’ll call it a band-aid fix. The counselor and I determined that I was having a bit of a career crisis and it was time for me to find a new career. A plan was made, and off I went.

I still didn’t know I had anxiety and depression. Things got better — for a while.

Several years later it wasn’t okay, and it got much worse. I was unhappy, stressed, not handling change well, and so overwhelmed with life. At the time we had one child, and Brian had recently started his new career as a police officer. I knew I wasn’t okay and I needed to see a counselor. This call to counseling was much harder.

In fact, I believe it was the most difficult call I’ve ever made. I cried and choked over my words the entire time I was on the phone. The receptionist, trained in crisis management, asked me if I was okay.

She said, “are you going to hurt yourself?”

Wow, sobering. Through tears, I said, “no.”

I met with that counselor for several months. It did help to talk to him, but I didn’t necessarily feel as comfortable with him. In retrospect, I think I wasn’t quite ready to face the fact that I suffer from anxiety and depression. I was agitated when he would say those words out loud. I refused to talk to a psychiatrist about medicine, as he suggested. I like to be in control and be strong.

Anxiety and depression seemed like a weakness to me, and I would not give up control by taking medicine.

Eventually, I stopped counseling and again felt somewhat better. I now know that accepting and dealing with your anxiety and depression is actually strong. The strongest people I know are those who battle mental illness.

Counseling is a tricky thing. Sometimes you need to go for a short period of time and then pop back in as is necessary as stressors build up. Some people need to go forever. I went several years without counseling and did pretty well, or so I thought.

I had no idea how much better I could be doing.

In the summer of 2016, I sought out counseling again. For me it’s not usually the cold, dreary days of winter that push me to seek help, it’s the approach of my birthday and this time was no different. The difference this time was that I recognized the feelings sooner and knew I didn’t want to wait until I couldn’t make the call without crying. In the search for a counselor that my insurance would cover I discovered a great center that also offered neurofeedback. I had no idea what that was, but I did some research and felt like that was the right direction for me. I didn’t want to just talk about my problems; I wanted to solve them. It seemed like neurofeedback could do that. I didn’t realize then that mental health doesn’t work quite that way.

Two years later, I can say that was one of the best decisions of my life and certainly the best decision for my mental health. I am finally able to accept that I suffer from anxiety and depression. I have learned ways to handle both of these things in my life. I have patience like I have never had before in my life. Neurofeedback has done tremendous things for my anxiety.

Do I still overreact, worry, and lost my temper?

Absolutely, but it is so much different now. I don’t spiral out of control. I am not a puddle of tears at the thought of having to take care of and keep my children quiet all day while my husband sleeps.

After doing neurofeedback for awhile, I wasn’t making the progress that I felt like I should have been. Several times Brian suggested I talk to my doctor about also taking medication. I shut him down very quickly and said I was fine – I wasn’t, but I was stubborn.

November 24, 2016, that changed.

I know the date because it was Thanksgiving. The girls and I stayed home to have Thanksgiving with Brian because he had to work. I was busy making my first turkey (all on my own) Thanksgiving fixings, entertaining children and trying to keep the house quiet so he could sleep 12 feet away from the kitchen.

It didn’t go well, and there were a LOT of tears.

Thanksgiving turkey cooking
Everything is not always as good as it appears on social media.

I was finally ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, medication would help. I was scared to try the medicine, especially because the doctor warns you about the side effects of depression getting worse and suicidal thoughts. Brian was on high alert to pay attention. Within a few weeks, I knew it was working. I felt different.

Brian, the smart husband that he is, will never admit to me how noticeable the changes were, but I know. I can feel it in myself. I am such a better person, mom, wife, etc. since deciding to take medication.

I now live a more centered, focused life and I feel more in control of my emotions and anxiety.

I did try to go off medicine for a while with my counselor and doctor’s help. What I found was my anxiety was under control, but my depression was not. My anxiety had been masking the depression symptoms, and since the anxiety was better due to neurofeedback, the depression was more apparent. Queue the breakdown, the tears, and the lack of desire to do anything.

I vividly remember trying to decorate the Christmas tree with my family, but not caring one bit about it. I tried so hard to be happy for my kids and my in-laws who were visiting, but I couldn’t. I barely made it through the day. All I wanted to do was curl up in my bed. I escaped the house alone to return library books (my only solo time without kids for days upon days). It was during those few moments alone that I realized how bad it was. Realizing it and admitting it were two different things.

I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my daughter’s room sobbing as I told my husband I needed to take medicine again.

depressed woman

I was depressed.

Why is it so hard to say those words?

I choked them out, but only after days of thinking about it. How do you admit you are depressed, especially when you have an amazing life? It felt like being a failure. When you are in the midst of depression, it is hard to admit those words to yourself, let alone say them to someone else. I don’t know that it will ever get easier, and I imagine most people who struggle with depression have the same problem admitting it.

I don’t know how to make it easier for anyone else, but I hope by sharing my story it helps you to share yours or to be open to hearing someone else’s.

A person’s mental health is crucial to their being able to live and live well.

Yet it is something that is easily ignored, pushed aside, and considered taboo. For me, counseling will be a part of my life periodically forever, and I am okay with that. I just hope that I will know myself well enough and admit soon enough that I can make that call before the tears and desperation have set in.

Let’s start talking about mental health, normalizing getting help, and actually connecting with friends and family.

woman enjoying freedome

For great resources be sure to check out www.nami.org. They even have a great blog and place to share your story. You are not alone!

To The Person Struggling with Depression

struggling with depression

To the person struggling with depression,

Let me first say it loud and proud, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.” No matter what you think, you are not alone. There are other people who struggle just like you and there are people to support you. Please, if you take nothing else away from my letter take this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

I know it feels lonely. Trust me, I know. The hardest thing you may have to do is to admit that you are struggling and ask for help. Depending on the depths of your depression, you may just need to communicate to a close friend or significant other that you need help and extra understanding. If it is just a minor holiday/winter blah funk, that is sufficient. If your depression is more than that, you should seek the additional support of a professional counselor.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Strong people ask for help. You may feel weak right now, but you are not. The strongest people I know are the ones who admit they need help and ask for it. It took me a long time to realize this and accept it as fact in my own life.

Don’t try to make sense out of your feelings, there may be none. Perhaps you have a great life with a wonderful family and no major worries to speak of. It doesn’t matter – you can still be depressed. It’s a funny thing depression. It’s not just an ailment for people who are struggling with finances, health crises or death of loved ones, though that is what many non-sufferers think. I don’t care how amazing your life is, you can still be depressed. Stop trying to convince yourself you shouldn’t be depressed because of how blessed and fortunate you are.  It will just make you beat yourself up more.

I have learned a few things about depression from my own experiences. Maybe they will help you, maybe they won’t. It never hurts to get ideas though. Please note that if you are suffering from depression beyond the normal “funk” you MUST see a professional. I won’t lie, that first phone call will not be easy, but you are STRONG. Asking for help is being strong, not weak! You are important and people need you to feel better.

One observation I have made is that there is a very important role in our lives that a “funk” fills. You cannot live life without some ups and downs. While I don’t love the feeling of being down and depressed, I do love the perspective it provides me afterwards.

I have found that after having a down, I appreciate the ups even more. It is typically after a bought of depression that I appreciate the happy feelings, the everyday joys of life and the simple things even more. I’m not sure that I would appreciate the beauty around me and the simple laugh of my daughters as much if I hadn’t struggled to find joy. Yes, I would appreciate them, but there is something to be said for the richness of those things after depression.

Also depression has allowed me to open up more to those around me about my truest feelings and insecurities. I don’t often admit openly that I don’t have it all together, but when depression hits I must. I have to ask for help, which is not (understatement of the year) easy for me. You must ask for help too. Trust me it does get easier.  I’m starting to get better at asking for help even in times when I’m not depressed.

I know there are people and circumstances where you still pretend to have it all together even when you don’t. I get it, we all do that and it’s okay. Not everyone needs to know that you’re having a rough time, but those closest to you do.

If you have kids or a pet, someone that relies on you, they can be the best helper for fighting depression.  Guess what, they don’t care if you are depressed. In my case I still have to be a mom. I still have to get up and get them ready for school. I still have to make food and buy groceries and read them stories at night. These might be the absolute last things I want to do, but I don’t have a choice. I really want to curl up in my pajamas and sit in a chair and wallow, but I can’t.

A great suggestion from my counselor was to do the opposite of what I want to do. She said if your body is telling you to sit and do nothing, you need to get up and go on a walk. It will make you feel better. If your body is telling you not to eat, you need to make yourself eat a nutritious meal. If your body is telling you to binge on cookies, you should eat a healthy snack instead. Continuing to do this will help to fight the depressing thoughts and feelings.

The things you want to do least during depression are the things you need to do most. Eat nutritious meals, exercise, and get enough, but not too much, sleep. You also need to make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D- this probably means a supplement during the winter months. If you can get out for a walk during the sunniest part of the day, that will help.

I know right now in the midst of this depression it feels like it will never get better, but it will. I promise there will be a day that you smile again without pretending. You will laugh again and appreciate the simple beauty all around you. In the meantime take care of yourself and be forgiving. Remember it’s okay to say “NO” and take things off your to-do list.

Remember you are NOT alone and you are strong.

 

Sincerely,

Someone who has been there and cares about you